I am a worrier and I know that I am in good company. Like you, I worry about my kids, I worry about my business, I worry about my husband and I worry about my friends. While some degree of worry is normal, unbridled worry is self destructive and gets in the way of our success. After all, if I spend my day wringing my hands and bemoaning the problem of the day, I am not taking the steps necessary to resolve the problem in the first place. Worse yet, I am expending valuable resources to stress over something that might not ever happen. What a waste of time!
The biggest challenges facing many independent craft retailers are easy to identify: a tepid economy and fierce internet competition. You have good reason to be concerned....these are scary times, after all...but worry isn't going to improve the economy or slay the internet dragon.
What is the Crafty Retailer to do?
Once you have identified the problem then it is time to focus on the solution. Proactive behavior will go a long way toward eliminating worry. Here are some steps that you can take RIGHT NOW to get your store on track:
BE REMARKABLE IN YOUR CUSTOMER SERVICE! I had an opportunity to speak to a large number of crafters this weekend when I attended the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival. The question that I asked everyone that I could corral is:
Do you do most of your shopping on line or at a local craft store?
The answers made me cringe. Time after time I heard shoppers say that they would like to support the local store but shopped online because: (1) The owner was rude and/or (2) The brick and mortar store didn't have a good selection. The price of the goods was less of a a factor than I had expected. Although I find it hard to imagine any owner or employee being unpleasant, I know it happens because I experience it ALL OF THE TIME. Please do not let your worry impede your ability to smile and be courteous. Consumers have a plethora of choices available to them and they will be most inclined to drop their cash at the place where they are made to feel welcome.
1. Open your store five minutes early and close it five minutes late. Oftentimes owners are rushing quickly through the doors at opening time. They are frazzled from the outset and never seem to catch up. Similarly, it is off putting for your shoppers to see you packing up for the night when the shop is still open.
2. If you have customers waiting outside, OPEN THE DOORS, even if you are "not open yet." During my recent out of town trip I happened upon a beautiful yarn store that was still 20 minutes from
opening. I was ready to leave since I didn't want to be late for an appointment but my more "yarn needy" friend knocked on the door. The somewhat startled employee hesitated only a nanosecond before she graciously agreed to let us in. Her decision resulted in a quick $100 sale from us. Moreover, six more shoppers came in behind us...they spent money too and all this happened BEFORE THE STORE OPENED. Kudos to Yarn Paradise in Asheville, NC. The store was absolutely beautiful with more samples than I have even seen displayed in a small shop. The window displays were stunning and the store manager did what was necessary to make the sale!
3. Become a community hub. It is all about human interaction! You want your customer to leave the store feeling better than when she entered it. Make your store a warm and fuzzy place. This requires adequate seating, crafting space, and coffee/water at a minimum. People will not hang around if the lighting is poor and the environment is sterile. A store that has people in it is much more inviting than a store that is empty, so your need to encourage traffic extends beyond the individual sale. Be nice to your customer's children. I let visiting kids keep every bead they found on the floor. It kept them busy and allowed Mom to focus on her purchases. Consider cultivating a new customer base by offering fun and age appropriate classes. Encourage groups (such as a girl scout troop) to come in for a crafty afternoon. Do you have a favorite young customer who could attract a new customer base! Offer her a job! Barter yarn for hours in the shop!
4. Offer regular and consistent in store events to attract and keep your customer base. You don't need to spend a whole lot of cash to generate excitement! Eat.Sleep.Knit. is an online retailer in Smyrna Georgia that has done an amazing job building a community despite not having a brick and mortar presence. Forget about the HO HUM "Percent Off" sale that so many store owners rely upon. It is boring and uninspired. " Eat.Sleep.Knit" conducts a YARNATHON! They track the yardage of the yarn sold and customers are rewarded as the miles grow. This clever promotion is much more engaging than the typical discount. Another "Eat.Sleep.Knit" brainstorm: Yarn Lotto! The company includes a SCRATCH OFF CARD with each shipment. The card offers the possibility of prizes such as free yarn. You can easily find a company to do design cards for you by googling "scratch off card." Consider some other events:
Schedule a trunk show
Host a charity knitting event or bead for a cause.
Sponsor a blood Drive
Grab a video camera and post some "How To" Tutorials on You Tube. Send an email alert to your customers.
Offer free classes
Make every Wednesday Lollipop Wednesday
Monthly Midnight Madness event for the night owls.
Schedule a Beadathon/Knitathon and give prizes for the person who goes the longest without a break.
Monthly Pizza and Beer Night
Monthly Book Club
Beading/Knitting Buddy Divorce support group
Host a Twitter Meet Up
Offer a cash for clunker day. Offer nominal store credit for customer rejects. Donate the rejects to charity.
Hire an extra staffer for a "free repair" day...fix those beading/knitting bloopers with a smile!
6. Look for an opportunity to engage "cross over" Crafters. Kelly Dale, owner of
Off The Beaded Path in Forest City, NC has done an awesome job tracking trends and making sure that she responds to the needs of her customers. She always has a promotion or two running and is always gracious and lovely. Her latest venture is to add a small line of yarn to her bead store inventory. Although there are no yarn stores in town, she is not trying to become a yarn store. Rather, she is responding to the needs of her customer base. She recently sent me the following response when I asked how her business was doing:
All in all I cannot complain about the way business has been. Since the beginning of summer I have seen a 30% drop in sales this year but we are not sitting by and letting it get the best of us. We are constantly trying new promotions and getting new products in. Your Crafty Retailer Blog has been a great deal of help to us also!
One of the things I did this week to help "branch out" my business and build it is I brought in Yarn for felting and doing Bead Knitting and Bead Crochet. I have a teacher who has been teaching some classes for us in Bead Knitting and we literally had to go on a hunt for supplies. The closet yarn shop we have to our town is about 40-50 minutes away. I contacted the Brown Sheep company and one of their distributors came to the store Tuesday and we put in our first order. The Yarn should be here sometime next week and there is already a buzz from some of my customers. They are so excited about the yarn! Not only because some of them knit and crochet but because now they don't have to drive all over town looking for what they need. I was thrilled!
As soon as the rep left the store the Doubt Bug set in and I immediately started to wonder if I made the right decision and money investment. But it goes back to what you said in the blog, sometimes you have to take risks and take whats behind door #3! So, with that being said and having a night to sleep on it i am very excited to be adding the yarn to the store. And the teacher said that when the yarn comes in she will teach a knitting class and needle felt over the project with the Needle Felting materials that I got from you guys earlier in the year. So, hopefully this will be a win win situation.
.....and it will, Kelly! The benefits of going the extra mile to provide a remarkable customer experience are obvious. You will succeed where others fail...Good Job!